Families in 2011: Incomes Decline, Poverty Rises
by David Gibson
The typical U.S. family had to make do on less income in 2010. The U.S. Census Bureau reported Sept. 13 that median household income declined last year, while the national poverty rate rose.
High levels of unemployment and underemployment lie at the root of these continuing problems, numerous economists explained after the Census Bureau report’s release.
The struggles that individuals, couples and families contend with due to reduced income or poverty greatly concern Catholic leaders, as does a third area the Census Bureau report addressed, people without health insurance. Their numbers rose from 49 million in 2009 to 49.9 million in 2010.
“The nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009,” the Census Bureau said. That meant 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty during 2010, which, for a family of four, meant an income of less than $22,350.
And median household income experienced a 2.3 percent decline, moving from $50,599 in 2009 to $49,445 in 2010 (in inflation-adjusted dollars). “Since 2007, median household income has declined 6.4 percent,” the report said.
Marriage and Young Adults
For the church, these realities represent moral concerns, and not only because they involve human survival needs. Faced by such problems, people often find over time that their hope in the future diminishes.
It is noteworthy that only two days before the Census Bureau report’s release, these concerns were on Pope Benedict XVI’s mind when he spoke to engaged couples in Ancona, Italy. He feared that many young adults, sensing that their prospects are bleak, choose today to delay marriage and other commitments.
“Ours is not an easy time, above all for you young people,” Pope Benedict told the couples. For, the difficulty they experience finding stable work clouds their future with uncertainty.
The effects of present-day uncertainties on young adults were assessed similarly by Capuchin Father David Couturier in an April 2011 speech in Chicago. Father Couturier is the Boston Archdiocese’s pastoral planning director. He said:
“With jobs and careers becoming more and more of a gamble, young people are putting off significant commitments. They are delaying decisions about love, marriage, family, career and settling down well into their 30s.”
The Census Bureau’s findings relate to ongoing concerns of the U.S. Catholic bishops in numerous ways. For example, the bureau reported that:
— Among children under 18, the poverty rate climbed from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010, the highest rate since 1993. “Children accounted for 35.5 percent of people in poverty, but only 24.4 percent of the total population.”
— The number of men working full time, year round, decreased by 6.6 million, while the number of women working full time, year round, decreased by 2.8 million.
For the Census Bureau, 2010 represented the first full calendar year after “the recession that ended in June 2009.” The bureau noted that household incomes also declined and poverty rose in the year following several recent recessions.
Impact on Families
Poverty’s meaning for children, families and others was accented in the 2011 Labor Day statement issued by the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif.
Poverty for children and families “does not mean they lack the newest video game; it means they lack the resources to provide the basics of food, shelter, clothing and other necessities,” Bishop Blaire stressed. For too many children, he said, “hunger and homelessness are a part of life.”
Millions of people lack work and are “raising children in poverty,” while “haunted by fears about their economic security,” Bishop Blaire wrote. He noted that “over the last century the church has repeatedly warned about the moral, spiritual and economic dangers of widespread unemployment.”
The Bishops and the “Supercommittee”
The suffering families experience due to unemployment and poverty was highlighted in an Aug. 31 message sent to the newly established, 12-member U.S. Senate-House “supercommittee” by Bishop Blaire, together with Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The supercommittee’s mandate is to recommend $1.5 trillion in federal budget cuts to be implemented over the next decade.
Bishops Blaire and Hubbard told the supercommittee they “fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to make ends meet and escape poverty.”
In economic times such as these, the bishops said that “it is not justifiable to weaken the national safety net or to make disproportionate cuts to programs that can help low and moderate income families avert crisis and live in dignity.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.